Archive for the ‘Cosmology’ Category

Lately I have found myself angry and unsettled almost every evening and I spend most nights sleepless reading the news reports from one bias to another attempting to gather the whole picture. I am finding myself ill and unable to figure out why until last night; I reached a boiling point. I went surfing the internet doing my best to avoid thinking about dirty politics and dirty planets when I stumbled across another of these pictures.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field

What you are looking at this time, although this small image does nothing to show its grandeur and I recommend finding a larger one if you have a second, is the Hubble Ultra Deep Field or HUDF. It is called the single most important and greatest image that humankind has ever looked upon, ever. The image required 400 Hubble orbits around the Earth taken over 11.3 days between Sept. 24, 2003 and Jan. 16, 2004.

This photo is of 78 billion light years about the width of looking through a straw at the darkest little spot in the night sky and represents the furthest that we have looked into our universe. The dots and smudges that you see are not stars but actually entire galaxies with millions if not billions of stars apiece. This number is what exists in the space of a pencil eraser just as far as we can look out and it would take hundreds of thousands more to fill the entire sky that wraps around us.

Think of that amount. One could feasibly consider the number of pencils it would take, the number of galaxies for each pencil width, and the number of stars at each galaxy. That unimaginable number is now right before your eyes. The Universe is … big…  Truly there could be no question somewhere on one of the smudges made up of billions of pinpoints of light surrounded by trillions of planets there is someone looking back wondering. This is truly an unsurpassed achievement and a testament of our ability to simply witness this universe.

At the same time as this picture was taken California elected the Governator, the Cubs lost the World Series, and Saddam Hussein was captured by Coalition forces. For many, these three events were the most important things to occur and their entire lives were tipped upside down by them. However, were they really as important as the reporters of them made us believe?

In this relatively unremarkable galaxy on an outer rim sits a small star and on that star’s third planet exists a civilization which thinks of itself as the most important occurrence in all of these tens of thousands of millions of stars.

These delusions of grandeur are brought to our thoughts by news media, religious groups, and various other special interests who are paid to instill in us the idea that our lives are based upon what happens in the polling booth, or on the sports field, or in a hole in the dirt or indeed in the earth. They convince us over and over that our lives will change dramatically for better or worse based upon the box you mark. They instill in us that the pressure to decide correctly is more important than any other. Well… is it?

If your like me and you find yourself becoming bogged down by all this rhetoric just think to yourself about how little it all matters to the blips of light in this picture.  Close your eyes. Hold this image in your mind and consider its significance. Meditate for a moment and breathe deeply in and out . . . in and out . . . in and out.

Now look around you, this is it. This might very well be all that we get. Let’s make our only home,  amidst this lonely and silent sea of cosmic smudges billions of years and miles apart, outlast our longest passage upon it.   Perhaps that hole in the earth thing can be acknowledged as a truly bad idea, when you consider that we are shooting holes into the only thing we can ride on. Let’s not spring any more leaks shall we.  It’s a long swim.

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Greetings Earthlings…

There is no better way to launch my Blog than to first take a movement to ponder, with the utmost humility, this image of everything we are.  Please consider this image with all the silence and reverence of all the worlds most solemnified  rites and ancient rituals replayed again and again throughout history.  Look inward at yourself and ask by what self interested egoistic need have you been able to claim such importance as to matter, sitting upon this ‘dot’ suspended for millions of years in a vast darkness— up until now, witness-less much less understood.

Let us ask ourself, what is that “mote of dust suspended on a sunbeam?”  Who are we to claim ourselves important on this speck in such a sea of emptiness? What matter is what you do, or what you have come to believe, or claim to know as it rests in the vastness of time and space upon which this blue spec sits?

This is…. US… everything… and before I get lost in a sea of pondering and philosophical affectations, I think I will just leave this one to the immortal words of Carl Sagan, said only just a few short years before his time on this ‘Pale Blue Dot’ came to an end.

Our 'Pale Blue Dot'

This year is the 20 year anniversary of this image taken looking back at Earth from Voyager 1. It was at the last moment before it left our solar system, approximately 3,762,136,324 miles from home.

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Truly the most important lesson to learn from this image is that which Sagan says in his last sentence. The only thing we can do with ourselves that matters, no matter what we do in our short time,  is to “preserve and cherish the pale blue dot”.

Indeed we may never find another.

Welcome to Harm’s Weigh

Charles Harmison